Category: New Releases

The Ticket Boasts Great Performances But Needs Focus

Overview: A man, long blind, recovers his sight inexplicably. His life changes in expected and unexpected ways. 2016; Shout! Factory; Not Rated; 98 minutes. More Style Than Substance: The Ticket is the story of a man who regains his sight in near miraculous fashion. Additionally, it offers an exploration of the human psyche and the effects of such a gift. The film focuses on the effects of regaining sight as opposed to explaining what is happening medically. Regardless of the lack of explanation, it’s unfortunate that more time is not spent on James (Dan Stevens) before this major event. In a...

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The Boss Baby Is About As Good As You Expect (Which Is “Not At All”)

Overview: The distribution of love for babies is threatened when a new puppy is due to hit the market. To prevent this, reinforcements are sent in via the Boss Baby; DreamWorks Animation; 2017; Rated PG; 98 minutes. Look Who’s Talking: Babies and young children being portrayed with adult qualities? Still creepy. Admittedly, being one of the many who would get emoji-heart eyes when a tiny human dons hypebeast clothing, I have come to reject projecting adult characteristics onto children…all thanks to The Boss Baby. The deep voice of Alec Baldwin emitting from a human tamagotchi was cringeworthy from the first...

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Colossal is a Monster Movie Rooted in its Protagonist’s Psyche

Overview: A woman in the midst of a difficult period in her life finds that her mental state has manifested in a monster that is wreaking havoc in Seoul, Korea. NEON; 2017; Rated R; 110 minutes. Attack of the 50 Foot Woman: Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal largely exists beyond genre and plays with expectations in all fronts. It is neither a parody of the kaiju, monster movie genre nor a monster movie played straight. Not wholly tragic but certainly not laugh-out-loud funny. Colossal is rooted in a metaphorical concept: a person’s mental state has manifest physically. The way invading creatures...

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CIFF41: Bill Watterson Brings Dave Made a Maze Back Home

Overview: A down-on-his-luck 30-something gets lost in a maze that he built in the living room in the apartment he shares with his girlfriend. Dave Made An LLC; 2017; Not Yet Rated; 80 minutes. A CIFF Homecoming: Dave Made a Maze had the most packed attendance of any film I screened at Cleveland’s International Film Festival. I expected as much, given that I had read that the offbeat slacker comedy was made by locally grown filmmaker Bill Watterson, who was in attendance for the event. But if that geographical nepotism might account for the attendance, I have to concede...

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CIFF 41: Rage (Ikari) Is A Murder Mystery That Is Its Own Red Herring

Overview: Three mysterious men in different cities are suspected by friends and loved ones of having committed the same grisly murder. Based on the novel of the same name by Shuichi Yoshida. Toho; 2016; Not Rated; 144 minutes. Rage Leads to Ruin: Sang-il Lee’s Rage is one of those films where everything that matters is already in place from the very beginning. In terms of where we start and where we end up, there isn’t much movement. I don’t mean that in reference to the central mystery presented by the movie, though each of the film’s intertwining vignettes is...

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CIFF41: Memories of a Penitent Heart Explores Goodness as an Abstract

Overview: A documentary filmmaker explores the truth behind the death of her uncle. Blackscrackle Films/POV/ITVS /LPB; 2017; Not Rated; 74 minutes. John 4:8: It’s well past the halfway point of director Cecilia Aldarondo’s familial documentary when Cecilia’s mother explains that she loved Miguel, Cecilia’s late uncle, but that she also wished for the salvation of his soul through his repentance and absolution of his sin. By this point in the film, both Cecilia and her audience have learned that Miguel, or Michael as he preferred to be known in the New York life that he made for himself after...

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The Discovery Ponders the Afterlife

Overview: The son of an infamous scientist who discovers the existence of an afterlife returns home to unravel the mysteries of his own life and others. Netflix; 2017; Not Rated; 110 minutes. Worldwide Suicide: Two-time director Charlie McDowell initially turned heads with his 2014 Sundance science-fiction drama The One I Love. That film’s legacy resumes in The Discovery, a Sundance follow-up that continues an ongoing thematic investigation into a philosophy of human intimacy jointly established by McDowell and returning screenwriter, Justin Lader. In a world where the discovery of life after death has resulted in a worldwide suicide phenomenon,...

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Salt and Fire is a Baffling and Unfocused Mess

Overview: After being kidnapped while on assignment in South America, U.N. ecologist Laura finds herself stranded with two blind children in the middle of a desert on the verge of thermal catastrophe. XLrator Media; 2016; Not Rated; 98 minutes. Lost in Translation: One of my favorite stories about the making of Claudio Fragasso’s accidental camp masterpiece Troll 2 (1990) involves the disconnect between its English-speaking American cast and its Italian-speaking crew. Apparently, the script (written by Fragasso’s wife Rosella Drudi) received a rather blunt-force translation into English. When it came time to shoot, Fragasso insisted that the actors perform...

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Ghost in the Shell is a Visual Spectacle With an Empty Soul

Overview: In a cyberpunk, futuristic Japan, a cyborg commander known as Major and her counter-terrorism unit Section 9 works to stop hackers and cyber-terrorists. Paramount Pictures; 2017; Rated PG-13; 106 minutes. Natural and Artificial: The 1995 anime film Ghost in the Shell, directed by Mamoru Oshii, is both beautifully animated and profound in its exploration of the human experience, pushing ideas about both technology and subjectivity to their extremes. If a third party can alter someone’s perception, memories, and actions—what constitutes one’s identity? It is a film that’s just as concerned with its main character’s psychology as with its futuristic...

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The Zookeeper’s Wife is a Heartfelt Testament to Humanity

Overview: A married couple decides to do the right thing in the most difficult moment, sheltering fleeing Jews in their zoo during the Holocaust. Focus Features; 2017; Rated PG-13; 124 minutes. Beauty Contrasted: The Zookeeper’s Wife, based on the book of the same name written by Diane Ackerman, covers some well-trodden ground with a new perspective. There have been, of course, many films set during the Holocaust. With The Zookeeper’s Wife, the major immediate draw here, before the performances even, is the unusual setting. As the title indicates, the majority of this film takes place at the Warsaw Zoo. The opening...

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The Blackcoat’s Daughter is Effective But Leaves Wanting for More

Overview: Two girls are left at Catholic boarding school over winter break, and one of them has a mysterious connection to the devil. A24; 2017; Rated R; 93 minutes. What Was in the Holy Water?: The Blackcoat’s Daughter, formally titled February, is a cold film. The winter setting is only partly the reason why. It’s a film devoid of warmth, love, and God, and the absence of which is explored through three girls. The film opens in the aftermath of Kat’s (Kiernan Shipka) nightmare and the camera follows her as she marks off the days on her calendar which...

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Live Cargo is Black-and-White Psychedelia

Overview: After a devastating loss, a young couple visit an island for a tropical getaway, but are confronted by personal and societal conflicts instead. Gunpowder & Sky; 2017; Rated PG-13; 88 minutes. Stone Cold Open: The cold open montage of Director Logan Sandler’s Live Cargo relies heavily on images (sometimes coupling images without apparent connection) to establish moods and ideas that will be explored throughout the film. The first three shots of the film are establishing shots of the island that depict it as a sinister and troublesome place to be. Following this is the montage that depicts the...

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Personal Shopper is a Thrilling Tour De Force

Overview:  A personal shopper in Paris seeks direction from the afterlife. IFC Films; 2017; Rated R; 105 minutes. The Elephant: Personal Shopper, a French psychological thriller about a young woman working on the edge of the fashion industry, made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival last year. Kristen Stewart is the star and her performance is, quite frankly, incredible. Reputationally, Stewart carries baggage because of her role as Bella in Twilight, for better or for worse, and audiences who haven’t seen or appreciated her smaller indie roles (Adventureland, The Runaways) like to discredit her for what they perceive...

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Life Stays The Course & Treads Worn Tracks

Overview: On a recovery mission, a crew discovers life from Mars and quickly understands its potential and the gravity of the situation at horrifying length. Columbia Pictures; 2017; Rated R; 103 minutes Initiating Sequence: Welcome aboard the International Space Station. Everyone you know is already here. You’ve met them all before on previous missions into space, maybe in Event Horizon or Alien or whatever just popped into your head right now. Here we have the “best” people the world has to offer, working together to make a significant discovery or save humankind. Which is to say, Life suffers a...

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Power Rangers Is Sloppy But Sincere Entertainment

Overview: A group of wayward teens comes together to become the mighty morphing Power Rangers. 2017; PG-13; Lionsgate; 124 minutes. Full Disclosure: I missed the boat on Power Rangers when I was growing up. I was the right age to become enthralled by its goofy wonders. References made their way into my personal pop culture zeitgeist perspective enough for me to recognize the resurgence of Ivan Ooze during another blockbuster’s promotional run, but I never dove in headfirst.  In some ways, Power Rangers always seemed to me to be the perfect property to reboot. From my understanding, the series was...

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